Opining on John Prine

“I’ve been thinking lately ‘bout the people I meet. The car wash on the corner and the hole in the street. The way my ankles hurt with no shoes on my feet…and I wonder if I’m gonna see tomorrow.”   Fish & Whistle by J Prine, who else?

John Prine2I can’t stop thinking and writing and talking about John Prine. So much so that I decided not to put this under the Coronavirus Diary string post. I’m breaking it out on its own. It deserves that. 

As far as John’s health and recovery go, I haven’t seen an update since his wife said that he was critical, but stable. I’m hoping that no news is good news. I’m hoping that he gets off the ventilator soon. 

After publishing yesterday’s post, I called my buddy Brad to make sure that he knew I was thinking and writing about him. He answered in that soft voice tinged with maybe some excitement that my name popped up on his phone. It had been a while since last we spoke. He’s working still at his stained glass shop in Winston-Salem, but in a reduced level. Only one other guy is working with him. They keep their distance. People stop in still to talk about making an order. He promised me that he “practices social distance. I suggested that he talk louder than his normal soft tones so they would stay at least six feet away. Otherwise, his voice draws people in too close for safety. 

One important thing that we got straightened out was that he had changed his email address and rarely checked the old one. Hence, he had not seen any of the new blog posts. 

That fixed, we moved on to talking about Prine, which took us to Seattle and our trip out there over 45 years ago. He said he didn’t remember turning me on to John’s music but he did remember how much we played Prine’s songs together. I said, that’s the way life is a lot of times. People share things with us, like dropping seeds. They don’t remember doing it or that it had that much influence on another. But those who receive the insight never forget from whom it came. At least when it made a difference in their lives that lived on. John Prine was one of the many seeds Brad dropped into my life that have grown and stayed with me ever since. And I’m grateful.

We talked about some of our other great memories, sort of polished them up again like restoring old photographs. We promised to keep in touch and then hung up. 

If anything positive has come out of John’s  illness, it’s the outpouring of love for him and his music. 

When I got up this morning and started brewing coffee, I opened up my phone and there was Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick, Kevin playing a mandolin and Kyra strumming a ukulele, singing “In Spite of Ourselves” for John. It’s very good. Give it a look.

Bob Umberger, another great friend dating back to junior high, wrote to me after yesterday’s post. Bob told me about a Facebook page devoted to John. Check it out. Right now, it’s post after post after post of ordinary folks playing their instruments, guitars mostly, and singing their favorite Prine song. It’s crazy. Even if the musicianship and vocals won’t launch their careers, it’s not about that. It’s actually in spite of that that they play. Alone with their guitars, fathers and sons, Husbands and wives, young and old, boys and girls, long hair, no hair, sitting in living rooms, garages, dens or kitchens, going on the record and playing for John, playing for his recovery. I spent the morning before Julie was up strumming through the posts.

Bob also told me a story about his John Prine sighting. Bob lives and works in Nashville.

On Christmas Eve (1:45 pm ish) John came into the liquor store where I work. (And hopefully be able to go back to if this rona will ever leave). He was buying for a party: bought handles of Smirnoff and Tito’s, a fifth of Capt Morgan and a six pack of Yazoo Gerst Amber Ale. I helped him find his items and chatted a bit. I told him I loved his work.

You never know when or where you’ll run into someone. Hopefully, John will make it through this and come visit Bob at the liquor store once again.

Searching for one thing often discovers something else.

Last night, I searched to find the photo I had saved of John to use in yesterday’s post. The search under “Prine” pulled up the photo plus a Word doc with “Prine” in the title dated April 15, 2005. I opened it up and there was a review I had written about a John Prine concert. Fifteen years ago! That might be the last time that we saw John here in Atlanta. I had forgotten that I had written it to be honest. And, back then, I didn’t have a blog. I guess I was just writing about stuff for myself and waiting for the interweb to get going so I could one day start self-publishing in a blog.

I don’t think anyone has ever read this piece except for Julie. I’m sure I shared it with her. After all, she’s a major part of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t mention the venue in the review nor the actual date of the concert. We can’t remember those details but it most certainly occurred around my birthday in April of 2005 Here it is…

John Prine In His Prime

This won’t be your regular review. It will be about the music and the musician, but we don’t love music solely because of those reasons. We love our music because of what it does to “us.” So, even though we talk about “them,” the musicians, we mostly talk about us; how their music affected (affects) us. When you engage in a discussion with others it boils down to how and when “you” discovered them – and this can get very competitive in the “who heard who first.” And this review will have a little comment on that. But I just felt like I needed to set the record straight on what kind of review this is. It’s personal.

I didn’t go to the concert intending to write about it so I didn’t observe it like a journalist, noting the song list in their actual order. Julie bought the tickets as a birthday gift, just like she did some 25 years ago.

I could not wait but I also couldn’t prepare. You know what I am talking about. You build your anticipation for a live concert by listening to the music of the artist that you have in your collection. It’s a weird ritual but one that many of us go through.

But in this case, I’m stuck in between technologies. When it comes to John Prine’s music, I’m stuck in the album world – not that there’s anything wrong with that except that I don’t have a working turntable hooked up. I have a turntable that works – bought it with my new fancy digital dolby system. But I don’t have the cabinet space for it. But that’s my issue. It all goes to say that, well, John Prine has been around much longer than digital audio formats. Okay, so I’ve established that I didn’t do my homework and refresh my memory of all of his songs and the lyrics etc. What I found out was that it really wasn’t necessary.

I think of Prine a lot living around Atlanta with its many four-way stops. One of his songs, “the accident” is about “a four-way stop dilemma. We all arrived at the same time. I yielded to the man to right of me and he yielded right back to mine. Well, the yield went around and around until Pamela finally tried. Just then the man in the light blue sedan hit Pamela’s passenger side.”

From the moment John stepped out on the stage and started plunking I was home. Home with the melodies and the lyrics which just flowed out of my head to the constant rhythm of his alternating bass note guitar picking style. My wife and I can not agree on the first song of the night, mostly because after a night of song after song the memory of the order fades. However, his last song, “Paradise,” was a beautiful rendition that brought Keb Mo back on stage for a duet.

 So, the first song, we think, was “Fish and Whistle” but we’re not sure. And it doesn’t matter the order. All that mattered was how the night and being in the same room with John, mattered to us. 

That’s right. It’s personal.

One more video: Stephen Colbert had John on the show in 2016. They sang a song together. “That’s the way that the world goes round.”


2 thoughts on “Opining on John Prine

  1. Funny I saw Kevin Bacon and his wife singing his song yesterday. I didn’t know much about him but now I do. Thanks Steve. Always love the journey.

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